Way back before kids and before blogging and writing, I worked for a university as their employment services manager. It was my job to teach international students about working in Australia and how to find work. It was my first ever job where I had to do regular public speaking. When I took the job, I did not know that public speaking was part of the deal until my boss put me on the spot. And I don’t mean just a 10-15 minute talk, I mean a 2+ hour talk, in a lecture theatre, in front of bachelor and masters degree students, multiple times during every new semester. I’d had no training, no speech therapy, no experience. I just winged it and experienced public speaking anxiety to the max.
I was an introvert back then (I’m talking almost 13 years ago here, see how young I look?). I will never forget the debilitating anxiety I experienced the night before and on the morning of the session. I could have said no, but there was something in me that said yes and made me push myself the furthest I’ve ever pushed myself beyond my comfort zone.
I can’t remember how many sessions I ended up presenting all up, but what I do remember is that it got more comfortable each time. I went from relying on my notes to presenting completely ad-lib. I went from feeling like I was stuttering, repeating myself and racing my speech to speaking clearly and calmly. I went from being a person who would never dare speak in front of a group of people to one that could do it with confidence and without the security of notes.
If you have public speaking anxiety like I did, you are one of the many people that do. People are often afraid of public speaking because they’re worried that it will harm their credibility, that their ideas might not be accepted or that they are being judged and evaluated. Just the plain fact that a person doesn’t have much experience in public speaking (like me) is enough to experience anxiety.
Public speaking anxiety tips
So how did I eventually become a confident public speaker and overcome public speaking anxiety? Well, it was not hypnosis or sneaky shots of scotch under the table. Here are some public speaking anxiety tips that helped me and that I recommend to help build your confidence.
Imagine everyone naked
Just kidding. This hasn’t worked for me. Actually, I’ve never really tried it because it’d probably make me feel worse. But what I did start doing was reminding myself that I was the expert, I was the one the students were relying on for the information they needed to succeed in the Australian workforce. If they already knew the answers, they wouldn’t have been there. Once you put yourself in the position of being the person who people are coming to learn from, it reduces your fear of being judged.
It takes time
Don’t expect to absolutely blitz public speaking straight away, that’s just putting way too much pressure on yourself. Instead, give yourself several goes speaking in front of groups of different sizes. Sign up to a Toastmasters group for practice, practice in front of your family, put your hand up to deliver some training at work. Practising public speaking will eventually help you get over your fear. Yes, you will still have nerves, but they’ll be only a fraction of what you initially experienced.
Don’t listen to your inner ‘negative nancy.’
I remember when I first started public speaking, I’d scan the room while I spoke and when I’d catch someone yawning or looking tired, I’d immediately tell myself, “oh, they’re bored, my talk must be terrible.” Those negative thoughts put even more pressure on my shoulders.
It’s easier said than done but, try to ignore that negative self-talk and assumption making. If you do catch yourself thinking that way, scan the room for someone who does look like they’re enjoying it, someone who is nodding and smiling. Who knows, you’re probably not at all the reason someone looks tired, they may have been up all night studying, have a newborn baby at home or work night shift. Remind yourself of that.
Don’t over practice
Yes, it’s a good idea to run through your talk a couple of times but don’t overdo it. Practising too much will increase your anxiety levels and make you over think it which can also lead to mistakes. Remember, if you don’t say something exactly how it’s written in your notes, you are the only one that knows!
You’re the expert
I think this is one of the things that made it easier for me and, it’s all about mindset. In the beginning, when I first started talking in front of the students, I had this idea in my mind that they’d know when I said something wrong or in the wrong order. I thought they’d see if I forgot to cover something or that they’d be judging my knowledge. As time went on, I realised that this was far from the truth. I reminded myself that the students were taking 2+ hours out of their day to listen to me and to learn from me. I was the expert; I had the information they needed. Changing my mindset boosted my confidence by 110%.
None of these things should ever hold you back from being heard, understood and achieving your public speaking goals. Take your time, don’t put too much pressure on yourself and try to forget about what other people are thinking because it’s often not what you think. Public speaking anxiety is normal but takes control of your mind, and you’ll find it a whole lot easier.
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